Gay History 101: Gay Days at Disney
This is from Box Turtle Bulletin’s Daily Agenda, and I thought it was interesting. As we struggle today for same-sex marriage and full equality, it may be helpful to remember that it wasn’t that many years ago, when there was very little gay visibility, let alone public support for our basic civil rights. My, how far we have come, even if we still have farther to go!
I have never been to Gay Days at Disney, and I was surprised to see this was as late as 1991. I remember going to a Gay Days at King’s Island in Ohio in 1981 or 1982. I had just met this most cute guy Jeff, who had a convertable, and it was our first “date” even though we were both claiming that we were only going as friends. People were there from Southern as well as Central Ohion and it was fun to see who had on red intentionally or unintentionally.
Jeff and I shared an amazing friendship for many years, although we have been out of touch for a long time. We were friends, and then we dated, and then we were friends, and then… we lost contact. But then, after many years, I came home one day to find Jeff (who lived 4 hours away) sitting on my front step waiting for me to come home. He was passing by Pittsburgh, and decided to just look me up so we could get caught up on each other. And, I will never forget that trip to King’s Island.
First Gay Days at Disney World: 1991.
It started as a very modest idea: a time for about 3,000 gays and lesbians in central Florida to enjoy a day at Orlando’s top attraction – and to become more visible. “Twenty years ago, there were hardly any visible portrayals of our community other than the pride parades,” Chris Alexander-Manley, president of Gay Days Inc., told Time in 2010. He was also one of the volunteers who helped organize the first event in 1991. He said, that the media tended to show “the drag queens and the extremes, the leather people, but that’s only a small part of the overall community.” To increase their visibility, gay attendees wore read shirts in the park. And it was that very visibility which caught the attention of anti-gay activists. The Southern Baptist Convention launched a boycott of all things Disney, despite the fact that Disney never sanctioned the event. Disney always instructed their employees to treat the first Saturday of June just like any other Saturday, which put the SBC in an odd position of, I guess, demanding that Disney ban red shirts or something.Gay Days at Disney World has grown from that modest 3,000 assemblage to an estimated 150,000 participants in recent years. And with that growth the nature of the event has changed somewhat. There are still family events taking place catering to LGBT families, but they occur alongside pool parties, dance raves and other circuit party-style activities of a more specifically adult orientation. But within the confines of the park itself, it’s all about Mickey Mouse and Magic Mountain and getting the kids in line for the spinning teacups. And despite ongoing grumbling from social conservatives — Disney typically issues refunds to families offended by the sight of red shirts — Gay Days continues to appeal to the kids in all of us.
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